Busted (Promise Harbor Wedding)
Author:Sydney Somers

chapter Twelve


Bernice had won Jackson. Shit.

Hayley stared as the crowd surged forward, some laughing and high-fiving Bernice, others just shaking their heads when they noticed her nearby. She forced a smile, a little stunned to find she had to make an effort to pull it off.

She hadn’t planned on bidding at the start, and yet somewhere between then and now she’d decided to go ahead, and she was too late.

“Did you two break up?”

She ignored the question from a woman next to her, telling herself she wasn’t that disappointed. She and Jackson weren’t a real couple like everyone else believed. He wasn’t staying in Promise Harbor. So why was her stomach in knots at the thought of him going on a pointless date with anyone else?

Hayley gave up on trying to get through the crowd when she spotted Bernice throwing her arms around Jackson. Why couldn’t someone else have won him, anyone else? Someone who wouldn’t set out to rub it in Hayley’s face.

Retreating to the bar, where the crowd was a little thinner, she slipped behind the counter. She didn’t wait for Matt to ask for help. She jumped right into filling drink orders. It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes before Jackson found her.

He smiled, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Hi.”

“Hey.” She set a glass of wine in front of the woman standing opposite her. “Guess I missed all the action. I got hung up at work,” she added when he didn’t say anything.

“Uh-huh.”

“Another robbery case.” She wouldn’t know if they were connected until she reviewed the security footage outside the condo that they’d have access to in the morning.

“No big deal.” He shrugged, his shoulders stiff despite the dismissive gesture. “Not like you were going to bid anyway, right?” He offered another smile, this one noticeably forced.

She’d disappointed him, she realized. He’d been expecting her, although he had to know she would’ve had to empty her savings account to have been able to compete with Bernice.

“You wouldn’t want to get in over your head anyway.”

“Jackson…” she began, not sure what to say to that. That she wished she’d made it on time? That maybe it was for the best?

Bernice waved to Jackson, and with a nod to Hayley he walked toward the grinning real estate agent when they both knew he would have rather faced a media firing squad. If she hadn’t known better, she’d have sworn he wanted to make her jealous, which was ridiculous.

Even more ridiculous was that it was almost working.

Annoyed with herself, she stacked a bin with dirty glasses and carried them into the kitchen. She narrowly avoided a collision with Matt on the way back out front.

He stopped. “Shit.”

“What?” She glanced around, hunting for the problem.

“You’re disappointed.”

“No.” Maybe a little, but like Jackson said, it wasn’t a big deal.

Matt shook his head. “You’re also a shitty liar.” He searched her eyes, and whatever he was thinking, she hoped he wasn’t going to say. “Be careful.”

No such luck. “That’s not necessary. We’re not serious.”

“Yeah, I heard.”

From Jackson obviously. Good. Then they were both on the same page. That had to be a good thing, right? Her stomach disagreed with a nervous twist that unsettled her.

“Sometimes things change, Hayls.”

“Sometimes they don’t. He’s waiting for that coaching job and then he’s gone.” And that was the bottom line. She had to keep reminding herself of that. What happened between them wouldn’t change that.

“What if you’re wrong?” Matt walked away, leaving her to stare after him and wonder where that had come from.

“Refill, Hayley?”

She turned at the sound of the voice, happy to have something to do that she didn’t have to think about. For the next two hours she helped Matt and the two waitresses working tonight. When the crowd started to die down, she signaled to Matt that she was heading out.

She didn’t know where Jackson was and decided she preferred a little time to clear her head anyway. Whenever he was close she struggled to remember where the two of them stood. Winning him would have just blurred the lines even more.

Wishing she could convince herself of that, she walked down the street toward her truck.

Across the street she glimpsed Bernice digging a box out of her trunk. Bernice paused next to the front of her car and snatched the piece of paper from beneath the wiper. “Another ticket?” she growled under her breath. She stuffed the piece of paper in her purse and continued back to Stone’s with her box.

It was then Hayley noticed Bernice had parked next to a fire hydrant.

Hayley stared after the woman who’d won a date with Jackson tomorrow night. Maybe she wasn’t quite ready to throw in the towel just yet.





The next morning Jackson, having just finished choosing new hardware for the kitchen cabinets at Coach’s place, turned to find Bernice in the aisle right behind him. The small aisle in Bert’s Hardware was not the place he wanted to find himself up close and personal with Bernice Cabot.

Resigned to their date, he nodded to the can of paint in her hand. “Doing some renovations of your own?”

“Just picking something out for a client.”

“We didn’t get to talk about what time you wanted me to pick you up tonight?” She’d insisted on getting his number to call him—and let him know how much they’d raised for Kyle, of course.

Her expression instantly darkened. “Hayley didn’t tell you?”

“No.” He was almost afraid to ask.

“She bought my date with you.” Bernice didn’t do a great job of masking the bitterness in her voice. A moment later she smiled, the gesture entirely practiced.

He could understand the need for that in her line of work.

“That’s too bad,” he lied, just as familiar with putting on a good front. He’d relied on that last night when he came across Hayley after Bernice had won him. “I’m glad you asked me take part in Kyle’s benefit. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without you running point.”

Her face lifted. “Hopefully the autograph signing will go off without a hitch tomorrow. All of the advance tickets for the presigning are sold out.”

“I’m sure it will.” Regardless of the fact that he wasn’t looking forward to it quite as much as everyone else. He’d probably be more enthusiastic about talking about his hockey career if the signing were after his interview with the Sentinels and he could mention the coaching position.

Sticking around Promise Harbor after the wedding hadn’t been part of the plan and had certainly come with its own complications. Complications that were easier to forget in the face of hearing what Hayley had done.

By the time he’d helped Matt close up the bar last night, he’d been too wiped to drive over to see Hayley, and he hadn’t been entirely sure she wanted to see him. He’d planned to head over there as soon as he finished picking up the new fixtures, and now even that didn’t feel like soon enough for him.

Bernice’s phone rang, sparing him from making an excuse to end their conversation. He paid for the supplies and headed back to Coach’s place. He couldn’t find Hayley in the house and, leaving everything in the kitchen, went in search of her.

He found her—or more precisely found her legs—under her truck. She had driven the vehicle up on ramps and had a tool box open beneath her on the ground.

“Miss your calling as a mechanic?”

She wiggled out from under the truck. “Just checking out an oil leak.” If she hadn’t said a word, the greasy smear on her cheek would have given it away.

“When were you going to tell me?”

“I didn’t think you’d care about oil stains in the driveway.”

He scoffed. “Not what I meant.”

“Oh, you’re talking about Bernice and the whole auction thing.” From her seat on the ground, she poked through her toolbox.

Playing innocent wasn’t her strong suit, he decided. “Yeah, that.”

“I probably would have told you before you left to get Bernice.”

“Probably?”

She shrugged, and climbed to her feet. “Might have been fun to see you squirm out on a date with Bernice.”

“Your idea of fun is a bit warped.” He gestured to her cheek. “You have oil on your face.”

“Oh?” She looked at her hand, then unexpectedly reached out to smear her palm across his cheek. “Now you do too.”

He grabbed for her, but she was already running away laughing. It only took twenty feet or so for him to close the distance and catch her around the waist. She twisted in his arms, but he wasn’t giving her the chance to use any of her police training to throw him off. He put all his weight into taking her to the ground.

His mouth found hers the second he took the brunt of the impact and rolled her beneath him. She parted her lips, dragging him into the kiss that raced across his skin like a live current.

Warm and soft, her mouth moved with his, deepening with the slick stroke of her tongue across his bottom lip. He groaned, tightening his hold on her. Relief and heat and bone-deep pleasure that she’d bought the date with him pulsed in his chest.

He slowed things down, kissing her chin, her cheek and finally her forehead.

“A bit early in the day for power plays, isn’t it?” She bit her lip, looking so sexy he had to kiss her again, drawing it out until she sighed into his mouth.

“I’m a big fan of going on the offense.”

“This coming from a seasoned defenseman?”

“I like to keep an open mind?” he offered.

She laughed, pushing at his shoulders. “Well, while you’re planning your next play, I’ve got things to do.”

“Yeah, like what?”

“Date stuff,” she answered cryptically.

“Isn’t that my department?”

“I’m making sure I get my money’s worth.” She pushed at his shoulders again, and when he didn’t budge she rolled her eyes.

Although he’d been half expecting it, the momentum of whatever she did with her leg succeeded in getting him off her. Not that he minded when he was staring up at her straddling him. He lifted his hips, rubbing the head of his aroused cock against her, making sure she knew exactly what their little wrestling match had done to him.

Hayley licked her lips, her eyes drifting shut for just a second. “I’ll see you at eight. Dress warm.” She stood and walked back to the truck.

He sat up, admiring the subtle sway of her hips. The view of her ass didn’t hurt either. Belatedly, he processed what she had said, then hollered out, “It’s June.”





Dress warm.

Jackson stared at the outside of the arena where Hayley had driven them after picking him up. She stood next to him in jeans and a T-shirt that read, Feel safe at night. Sleep with a cop. It had taken him a couple minutes to stop laughing long enough to tell her he loved it. A sweater was tied around her waist.

She bypassed the door and looked down along the side of the building.

“Aren’t we going in?”

“I thought you were an expert at sneaking in?”

He glanced around, noticing the sun was setting, but they were far from camouflaged by the shadows. “I did say that, didn’t I?”

She nodded.

“I was an ass.”

Laughing, she pulled a key out of her pocket and let them in. The familiar scent of the ice filled his senses. Though vendors didn’t set up during the summer season reserved mostly for hockey camps, he could almost smell the popcorn that was always thrown around the arena during events.

He followed her down the stairs and along a corridor that emerged from beneath the stands. On the bench closest to the open board where they had access to the ice sat two pairs of skates. He took his time joining her, watching her lace up her skates with an efficiency he admired. He still had one to go by the time she had hers on her feet and was flying across the ice.

He hesitated when the blades of his skates finally touched the ice, remembering he’d only been on his skates a handful of times since facing the fact his hockey career was over. But instead of the familiar ache in his chest he’d expected, he felt himself grinning as he watched Hayley.

She’d made two laps before he joined her, and after shaving the ice across her skates when he stopped next to her, he stole a kiss, then skated backward. Pumping her legs hard, she still couldn’t catch up to him.

Giving up before long, she skated across to the player’s bench, bending over the boards for something.

“How about you just hold that pose a minute,” he called out.

Grinning, she skated back across to him, tossing him a stick. She dropped a puck on the ice, then used her own stick to shoot it away from him. He glided over to it and shot it back, careful not to put too much force behind it. With no protective equipment on, she could easily be hurt.

After passing it back and forth, she nodded to the net. “How about a friendly competition?”

“Sweetheart, you don’t stand a chance.”

She lifted a shoulder. “One shot each.”

“What are the stakes?”

Her brow creased in thought. “If you win, I’ll—”

Oh no. That was definitely his call. “If I win,” he interrupted, “you’ll take the day off tomorrow. One full day. No work. No renovations or oil changes. Nothing but fun.”

“Your idea of fun is getting me naked.”

“And?” He really didn’t see what the problem with that was.

She rolled her eyes. “If I win…you’ll come back here tomorrow and give the guys some pointers. After the autograph signing,” she added.

He’d almost forgotten about that. Although he wasn’t as resistant to the idea as before, it wasn’t anything to worry about. He didn’t plan on missing.

“I’ll go first.”

He knew that tone. She’d used the same one when she’d relinquished the Beast to him after he’d arrived back in town.

“Do you find it hot in here?” She glanced around as if in search of an explanation for the temperature jump only she felt, then tugged both her sweater and T-shirt over her head.

He circled around her, admiring the red lace bra all but spilling her breasts over the top. “It’s gonna take a lot more than that to make me miss.”

“Of course it would.” She glanced at the net and drew her stick back. The cracking sound of her hitting the puck echoed through the arena and the black disc shot forward, headed for the net.

Impressed, he let out a hoot when the disc barely cleared the post and sailed into the back of the net. “What happens if we have a tie?”

“You’re awfully sure of yourself.” She leaned on the stick, drawing his attention right back to her breasts. Did her panties match?

Okay, so maybe it was more distracting than he gave her credit for. Focus.

Jackson brought back his stick and let it rip, firing the puck across the ice. It was a guaranteed goal, or would have been if the blade of his stick hadn’t snapped on impact. His missed the net by over a dozen feet.

He stared at the busted stick, then to where Hayley skated away, dragging her T-shirt and sweater back on. “You knew that would happen.”

She gave him a puzzled look, her lips twitching just a bit.

“You sabotaged the stick.”

“That would be cheating, and cheating is wrong.” Her deadpan delivery cracked him up, and he took off after her.

In five seconds he had her against the boards, pinning her in place. Heat rolled off her body, and that contagious laugh of hers echoed around the rink.

A little breathless, she tipped her face up. “So after sneaking into the rink in high school and showing off for the girls on your skates, what would you do next?”

“Tour of the dressing room,” he teased.

Her nose scrunched up. “Seriously? Wow,” she mocked, “Your romantic streak is a mile wide, Knight.”

He playfully bit down on her neck. “Cheaters don’t get to judge.” He released his hold, skating back to retrieve the puck and broken piece of his stick.

She was already off the ice, unlacing her skates, by the time he caught up, and the heartbreaking smile she sent his way did crazy things to his stomach.

Once his own skates were off, she held out a hand, and he slipped it into his own. He didn’t know what made her change her mind about the date with him, but he was damn glad she had.

“How did you convince Bernice to give up the date with me?”

“Seems our former mascot had a number of unpaid parking tickets and was close to losing her license. Would have been bad for business.” Hayley grinned.

“Your rebellious streak is still a mile wide, Stone.”

They walked a few laps around the arena before Jackson realized how good it felt to be there despite what had happened in the past. Maybe because the end of his professional hockey career wasn’t as important as remembering why he’d wanted to play to begin with, or maybe it had a lot to do with the woman next him. Maybe both.

They leaned against the rail that circled the lower section of seating. “I still would have gone for it,” he said quietly. “When you asked if I would have done things differently if I’d known my career would end too soon. I still would have gone for it.”

Hayley nodded.

“Already knew that, did you?”

“I had my suspicions.” She turned and sprinted down the hallway, in the direction of the stairs they’d used earlier to get down to the ice.

It was only fair to give her a slight head start before pursuing her. By the time he reached the bottom of the stairs, he caught a faint trace of her laughter. He stood opposite the home team’s locker room where the door hadn’t shut completely yet.

He pushed it open, spotting her shoes and pants in the middle of the floor immediately. There was nowhere to hide in the benched-off cubby area where players stored their gear during a game, so he moved deeper into the locker room, toward the showers.

Her T-shirt, sweater and bra lay on the tile floor, but he saw no sign of her.

“Hayley?”

Not surprisingly, she didn’t respond.

Hunting for her, he circled back to the main room. She stood in the middle of the floor, watching him. He walked toward her, arousal snaking down his spine and sinking straight between his legs. Hard and hot for her, he drew her close.

“Which one did you use?”

A half-naked woman with storm-cloud eyes and a killer smile was in his arms, and she wanted him to take a trip down memory lane? Christ, it was taking a lot of control not to devour every inch of her already. Talking could be a problem.

He indulged the need to touch her by running his hand up her arm. “Second one from the left.” He tipped his head to indicate which side of the room he was talking about.

“I should have remembered that.”

“Stalked the guys’ locker room, did you?”

“You’d be surprised where that mascot costume got me.” She ran a finger along his waist. “You’re overdressed.”

Jackson didn’t need to be told twice. His pants would have been around his ankles already if she weren’t taking her time lowering his zipper and pushing his jeans down. Really taking her time.

Hayley bent to get his pants and boxers down, then skimmed her hands up the back of his thighs. She didn’t move any quicker when she brought them around to his knees and up the inside of his thighs.

“There were never any girls in here with me. Not in any locker room.” He’d always been careful to keep hockey separate from his love life. And now he couldn’t imagine ever separating Hayley from that part of himself.

What would it have been like to come home from a game to her? Would she have helped to ice his bruises and kissed them all better? Probably after she told him to nail the other guy’s ass to the boards next time.

“What’s so funny?”

Jackson realized he’d been smiling. An answer wasn’t required—and would have been damn difficult—since she’d palmed his balls, curling her fingers around him. His eyes slid shut under the seductive rhythm.

She went to her knees and closed her hands around his cock. Already hard for her—hell, when wasn’t he?—he thrust into her grip. Slow at first, slow enough to make his knees tremble, then a little faster, she pumped her hand up his shaft, stroking her thumb across the full head.

She licked up from the base, alternately closing her mouth around the length of him and running her tongue in heated swirls. The urge to take her chin and push himself between her lips nearly choked him, but he kept it together, let her go at her own pace.

Over and over, she devoured him, sliding up and sucking the tip of him, and finally more, deep into her mouth. He fisted his hands in her hair, his body overheating. She was right there, so damn sexy and dirty and so fucking close to making him come already.

Her fingers wrapped around him again, matching the pace of her mouth taking him deeper. He gave up on fighting the need to sink harder into her and pitched his hips to feel every bit she pulled between her lips.

Fuck.

Without warning, he dragged her up and set her on the bench. She barely had time to protest before he kneeled down, yanking her panties off, desperate to taste her. Already so wet, she parted her thighs for him, and he tongued the slick folds, sliding between them. Her legs closed around his shoulders, trapping him as if he had any plans to move a single inch.

Tasting her in slow, long licks, he found her clit. He traced the tender knot, lapping at her and loving the way she was nearly panting now. She said his name over and over, and he continued to feast on her. Licking, sucking, and enjoying every lift of her hips as she frantically held on to him.

Hayley cried out, shattering around him. He didn’t let up until her body stopped trembling, and by then she was gripping his head, moaning louder. With a few pumps of his fingers inside her, he pushed her into another orgasm.

“God,” she breathed, staring at him, completely undone, and he loved knowing he could do that to her.

Stripping his pants the rest of the way off, he dug out a condom and sheathed himself. Pulling Hayley to her feet, he backed her up against the wall and plunged his cock inside her. They both groaned, and for a second everything within him shook.

Holding her gaze, he pumped his hips, filling her, driving so damn deep. His knee ached, objecting to the pressure he used to bury himself inside her, but it felt too incredible to stop for even a second. He needed to be with her too much. Inside her. A part of her.



Hayley held on for all she was worth, drowning in the sensation of being pinned to wall, Jackson’s strong body holding her there as he drove himself into her. She moaned with every thrust, clinging to him, needing him in a way she hadn’t needed anyone in a really long time.

She squeezed her eyes shut, not willing to go there yet.

Instead, she gripped Jackson’s shoulders, her nails sinking into his skin as his thrusts rocked her entire body. Muscles turned to stone beneath her hands, and he groaned into her neck as he came, pumping into her until he was spent.

She slid down his body, landing on shaky legs.

“This way.” Jackson tugged her after him, limping just a little on the way to the showers.

He turned the water on, left her side just long enough to dispose of the condom and then tugged her under the warm spray with him. Hot water would have turned her to mush, and it took way too much effort not to pull him to the floor with her where she could curl up against him and try to catch her breath.

She was horribly, desperately screwed. She’d been worried about that while getting ready for their date, their first genuine date, and now she was faced with the absolute certainty of it.

She was falling for him.

It didn’t help that he gently rubbed his hands down her back beneath the water, or that he held her tight, warning her not to slip, or that he used her T-shirt to carefully dry her off since she hadn’t planned this part of the evening at all.

A date at the rink had seemed like a fun idea, even though she’d glimpsed the apprehension that crept into his face when they turned in to the arena parking lot. She’d set a goal of showing him that he could still have fun on the ice, but hadn’t anticipated how much of a good time they’d have.

And she certainly hadn’t anticipated what had happened in the locker room. Running from him had been just a game, one that became so much more than that when he’d stood opposite her looking so boyish and confident and devastatingly sexy.

And he’d be leaving soon.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

Why had she let this happen?

Jackson slid his hand along her cheek, tipping her face up to meet a slow, aching kiss. It was impossible not to kiss him back, or to pretend every exquisite pass of his mouth didn’t set her on fire. If he sensed she was thinking too hard again, he didn’t say anything.

By the time they’d dressed and gathered their skates, she wondered if she would be better off making an excuse to keep him from staying with her tonight. Maybe she’d be smart to make a clean break before another night in his arms made it even harder to let go.

On the drive home she tried to work up the nerve to tell him he couldn’t spend the night, but couldn’t make the words leave her mouth. She wasn’t even sure she wanted them to.

In the end, the decision was taken out of her hands. They pulled up the driveway and Hayley immediately noticed the front door was open. She hadn’t left it unlocked, let alone open, before picking Jackson up.

A light down the hall had been left on—deliberately, was Hayley’s guess—so there would be no missing the disaster waiting for her inside.

The house had been trashed.

Furniture was turned over. Pillows and cushions torn apart. Streaks of red paint ran down the walls in the hallway. Gouges had been made in the wood floor.

“Don’t touch anything,” she advised, keeping both her heart rate and her anger in check that her home, her grandparents’ home, had been so completely violated.

Digging her phone out of her pocket, she called it in to the station as she made her way through the house. Jackson stood in the kitchen doorway. Beyond him, she could see where a wall had been kicked in and a hammer had been taken to the cupboard doors, denting them and breaking off hinges in other places.

The damage had been contained to the downstairs only. Maybe whoever was responsible had heard the truck coming down the drive and bolted before finishing the job, or maybe they’d grown bored with making their point.

Jackson gestured to the door that frequently slammed shut. Dozens of hammer and kick marks covered it. The door had held up, though, despite the abuse it had taken. “I think whoever did this didn’t like your nan’s ghost slamming doors on him.”





By Sunday morning the damage looked even worse. Jackson had refused to let her clean any of it up last night. Once they’d made sure nothing had been left behind to identify the culprit, he’d dragged her upstairs to bed.

He’d coaxed her under the covers, holding her until the tension began to drain away, promising they’d get everything fixed up in no time. She wasn’t even sure that he understood he was making promises he couldn’t keep.

As soon as she opened her eyes, Hayley had gone to see her grandfather. He needed to hear about the break-in from her and not some gossip hound who masqueraded as a compassionate candy striper at the hospital.

She’d only been allowed to peek in on him. Another bad night, according to Trudy, and the nurse’s expression when she looked over the last vitals recorded on his chart confirmed it had been much worse than usual.

Spirits dragging, she returned to the house, armed with enough cleaning stuff to scrub down an entire arena. A huge pile of garbage had already been started out front, and she smiled when she saw Cody and Brent carrying more outside as she climbed out of the truck.

More of the hockey team was already inside, going to work, with Kyle directing most of their efforts.

“Kyle brought them over just after you left,” Jackson said coming down the stairs. “He’s a great kid.”

“Sure is.”

The whole team was wonderful and worked well into the early afternoon cleaning up. Repairing the damage to the walls and doors would take more work, but the inside no longer looked like someone had picked the house up and shaken the crap out of it.

“Who do you think did it?” Kyle rolled his chair up next to her.

“I don’t know.” She wasn’t immune to having enemies, being a cop, and this was certainly personal enough to make her believe she’d really pissed someone off.

“You’ll catch them.” The confidence in Kyle’s voice went a long way to pulling her heart from the pit in her stomach.

She tugged on the front of his ball cap. “Thanks, bud.”

He beamed and then went over to help some of the guys load the garbage bags into the back of her truck.

Needing a drink, she went in search of the cooler she’d stuffed with ice and soda once she found herself with an army of workers. The cool drink wet her throat. She closed the lid on the cooler and followed the sound of voices out to the backyard.

She leaned against the doorjamb, watching Jackson stand next to Cody, a hockey stick in his hand as he pointed at something. Cody nodded along to whatever Jackson was saying, then took the stick and pretended like he was hitting a puck.

Jackson’s approval made the teenager’s mouth explode in a wide grin. He asked Jackson something else, then noticed her standing there. He looked a little guilty at being caught not working like the others, and mumbled something about finishing up.

She laughed when he made tracks around to the other side of the house. Jackson turned toward her, pausing when his phone rang. She left him to it and finished her drink before carrying another bag of busted wood and hinges out to the truck.

A group had gathered around Cody, and she bet he was filling the others in on whatever words of wisdom Jackson had imparted. She hoped last night had done something to prove to him he still had plenty to offer to those kids, regardless of his accident.

“Speak of the devil,” she said when she noticed him walking toward her.

Jackson picked her up and swung her around. “They called. I’m leaving this afternoon, and from what my agent is saying, the job is pretty much mine.”

Hayley scrambled to process what he was saying. “You’re leaving? Now?”

He nodded, his grin widening. “I was worried about coaching, worried about a lot of stupid shit, but last night I realized all that is in the past and I’m not done loving the game. You’re amazing, you know that?”

She struggled to keep up. “Last night,” she echoed. Last night she’d realized she was falling in love with him, and he’d come to the conclusion that coaching was exactly what he wanted to do after all?

“You made me see that I can be fearless again.”

“I did?” Why did it feel like she was missing something?

“Sorry. It was something Coach said to me. And he was right. When we were in the rink last night I was reminded of that. I never used to let fear get in the way before, and I can’t now either.”

“Gramps was always a smart guy,” she managed, though her throat felt like it was closing up. “What about the autograph signing?”

“I’ll make it up to them.”

“Those boys are counting on you.” She was counting on him, on wild and reckless Jackson Knight.

Oh god. How stupid had she been? He’d been clear from the start that he’d been waiting for this opportunity. How had she let herself think—hope—for even a second that things had really changed?

“They’ll understand,” Jackson pressed, looking a little uncomfortable for the first time.

“And you can’t leave tomorrow or tonight?” Not that it would make a difference, really. Gone was gone.

He frowned. “I thought you’d be happy. Haven’t you been the one determined to prove that I shouldn’t write myself off?”

“You shouldn’t.” She shook her head, realizing there was nothing else left to say.

“This is my chance to get my life back on track.”

And that’s what it came right down to. His life.

This wasn’t his home. He didn’t have anything keeping him here. He’d been waiting for this, passing time, keeping busy with the renovations, the auction, her.

But there wasn’t any passing through for her. This was her life and he wasn’t part of that. She should be used to it. People left. Her dad. Gavin. Eric. Gramps was close.

And now Jackson.

Only she couldn’t really consider it leaving when he had never planned on staying anyway.

She swallowed past the tightness in her throat. “Are you going to tell them?”

Guilt flashed across his face. “I’ll be back to make it up to them.”

No, then. She glanced at the boys trudging back into the house, spending their day helping her out and looking forward to something that wasn’t going to happen now.

She tossed him the keys to the truck. “Have Matt drop it off to me after he takes you to your parents’ place.” She glanced around, relieved none of the guys had overheard their conversation. “See you around, Jackson.” The words nearly choked her, but she couldn’t stand there and watch him drive away.